University of Reading: New audio trail to explore University ‘secret garden’

A new piece of public art created as an audio trail designed to help young children and their families learn more about the rare and unusual plants in a University of Reading ‘secret garden’ has launched today (Monday 11 July).

The Harris Garden, established in 1972 and named after the late professor and distinguished palaeo-botanist Tom Harris, is a small botanical garden situated on the University’s Whiteknights campus. It contains many species of trees and shrubs from around the world, some of which date back to the garden’s 18th century origins.

The audio trail was made in conjunction with soundscape artist Richard Bentley, children from three local primary schools (Redlands Primary School, Alfred Sutton Primary School, and Newtown Primary School), and local outdoor educators Charlotte Allchin and Teresa Verney-Brookes. University students also volunteered to support the workshops.

The trail is 35 minutes long and will give listeners some history of the Harris Garden, information on the plants and trees that can be found there, and guidance on how the garden changes throughout the different seasons.

The narration is set to a soundscape of sounds recorded in the garden by the school children – these include birdsong, crunching leaves and wind blowing through the trees. The children also created sounds using percussive instruments from around the world.

‘Valuable for children’
Stéphanie Mitchell, Arts Development Officer at the University of Reading, said: “The Harris Garden is one of Reading’s hidden gems. Open to all, it is a beautiful green space that gives people the chance to admire some interesting and unusual plants and, more importantly, reconnect with nature.

“The audio trail is aimed at helping visitors to the Harris Garden access some of its treasures. We were keen for local school children to be involved in the project so that they could create something special for their local community and have the experience of creating a different type of art. Working with our outdoor educators meant that they could learn more about the Harris Garden as a place to visit but also as a way of nurturing a sense of environmental stewardship.

“It was a real pleasure to see the excitement and wonder of the children as they learnt about the garden and the wildlife within it.”

Children in the Harris Garden at the University of ReadingEmily Farahani, a teacher at Newtown Primary School, said: “Visiting the Harris Garden was a wonderful opportunity for our children. It was fantastic to see them spend the day outside and the effect this had on their wellbeing and self-confidence was incredible.

“Having access to spaces like the Harris Gardens is so valuable for our children who live in urban areas to enable them to connect with nature.”

The audio trail has been produced as part of the University’s Public Arts Strategy, with collaboration from the Estates Team, Reading School of Art, the Institute of Education, and staff from the School of Biological Sciences.